A new face at the helm of Philly Labor: Ryan Boyer
With Johnny Doc’s conviction and subsequent resignation from the Building Trades Council, Boyer offers a glimmer of hope for more diversity.
On Wednesday, Nov. 17, Labor leader Ryan Boyer became the first Black business manager of the Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council. This comes as John Dougherty resigned from the labor organization’s top role, after a jury found him guilty of federal bribery charges.
Boyer is the top official of the Laborers District Council, which represents 6,200 members across four locals that are the only majority-Black building trade unions in the region.
The Building Trades Council has long been criticized for its lack of racial diversity., and improving this is one of Boyer’s main objectives in his new role.
Ryan Boyer is the first Black leader for the powerful Building Trades Council, after John Dougherty officially stepped down https://t.co/oQtVHgx2gb
— Billy Penn (@billy_penn) November 18, 2021
“One of my leading priorities will be to build on the progress we have made towards ensuring that our unions reflect the diversity of our region,” he said in a statement.
This change in leadership was authorized by the council’s executive board during a three-hour meeting at the Sprinkler Fitters Union Hall. It was decided that Boyer will finish the remaining three years of Dougherty’s term.
With Boyer’s promotion, some political observers see a chance to boost racial diversity in the predominately white building trade unions. Aside from Boyer’s Laborers, public analyses show that construction trade unions are largely white and suburban.
City leaders have long been attempting to diversify the ranks, and Dougherty often disputed with lawmakers over efforts to increase minority participation in city-contracted union work.
In May 2018, Mayor Jim Kenney’s $500 million public works initiative was threatened by a dispute over a commitment to diversify the city’s building trades unions.
Kenney and Dougherty clashed with City Council over the terms of an agreement to boost minority participation among the construction unions. Dougherty said he wouldn’t negotiate any further with Council after having struck a deal with the mayor.
"That's the only deal they're getting from me. These agreements are perfect for trying to break the lack of inclusion in the trades,” Dougherty said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer.
In response, Boyer told PlanPhilly that the situation was beyond frustrating, but that the Laborers’ District Council will not give up on their dedication to the community and to the mayor.
“We want to be — and we’re going to be — a more diverse building trades. We want to fix the parks and rec centers and we want to acknowledge that historically, the building trades have not been as hospitable to people of color,” Boyer said.
During today's @PHLCouncil session, I praised Ryan Boyer for being the first African-American leader of the Building Trades Council of Philadelphia. It is a proud moment to see Ryan rise in the labor leadership. https://t.co/G3XyYqRIDi
— Kenyatta Johnson (@CouncilmemberKJ) November 18, 2021
U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, a supporter of Boyer, said the new business manager has a great opportunity to make significant change after many years of exclusion in the trades.
”It’s long overdue,” Evans told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “People are losing faith and hope that anything can happen with the lack of diversity in the building trades. He has a unique opportunity to change that.”
Earlier this year, Boyer abruptly stepped down from his position as head of the Delaware River Port Authority, leaving it to Councilmember Cherelle Parker, making her the first woman to hold the role.
He didn’t leave for her sake though, he simply said he had accomplished enough.
”I fundamentally believe that people in Philadelphia hold on to power too long,” Boyer told The Inquirer in August. “Sometimes you just gotta go. If I preach that, I have to do that.”
This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.